Before expressing your feelings or point of view, be willing to listen—actively—to what another person is saying.

Active listening means focusing on what your conversation partner is saying before stating your own position, opinion or needs. It includes giving a brief restatement (repeating) of what you’ve heard if you need to clarify your understanding before expressing your own views. To do this you need to pay close attention to the other person’s feelings and acknowledge that you understand how they feel.

Here is an example of what you might say: ‘If I understand you correctly, you feel your workload is too heavy and you need help on Mondays and Thursdays. Is that correct?’ Or you may acknowledge the other person’s feelings by saying: ‘I would also be upset if I was told that I have to work the entire weekend.’ Acknowledging the other person’s point of view does not mean that you approve of or agree with it or that you intend doing anything about it. Active listening simply indicates that you understand what your conversation partner is saying.

Use this technique only if you need to test your own understanding of what the other person said, otherwise they are likely to feel patronised if you keep repeating back what they have just said.

The act of listening has three basic steps: hearing, understanding and judging. Hearing means that you listen just enough to understand what the conversation is about. For example, if the speaker told you that there are several different models of a specific car and you can repeat this fact, then you have heard what the speaker said. If you heard that there are several models of a specific car and you have thought about what that means and can draw a conclusion—for example that the different models will have different finishes, accessories and features—then you have understood what you heard. If what you have heard makes sense to you, then you can judge whether the statement is believable or not.

Tips for becoming a good listener

  • Let go of any preconceived ideas you may have about the outcome of the conversation. Do not pre-judge the speaker’s views as nonsense or false.
  • Remember that listening requires more than simply keeping quiet so that you can have your turn to speak. It is a process of understanding, acknowledging and responding.
  • Maintain eye contact and give the speaker your undivided attention. Block out any distractions so that you can remain focused on the speaker.
  • Listen to the words. Don’t allow the tone or pitch of the speaker’s voice or a speech impediment to throw you off. Remain focused on what is being said.
  • Acknowledge what the speaker is saying—even if you don’t agree—before expressing your point of view. Remember, nodding your head in acknowledgment whilst listening to a conversation does not mean that you agree with what is being said. It means that you understand what they are saying.
  • Do not interrupt the speaker—even if you disagree strongly.

 Extracts from Up The Corporate Ladder, written by Elsabé Manning, CEO of Elsabe Manning